Volume 5 – A Distance Within Reach, Chapter 8: The Most Profound Take the Simplest Forms
After bidding Zhao Junhong farewell, Song Zining and Qianye didn’t return to the hall. They didn’t drive either and, instead, walked along the main path up the mountain. Looking back from halfway up the mountain, the crystalline Lan River was gleaming under the moonlight like a dancer's wide sleeves. There were lanterns scattered all over the place from the Cloud Mountains to all the way to the riverbank. It was truly a flourishing and magnificent landscape.
Suddenly, a beam of purple flames flashed through the night sky and approached rapidly. Even the air began to churn akin to the ripples formed when a roof tile hit the surface of the water.
Qianye took one step forward and stood in front of Song Zining after seeing the flames.
Zhao Jundu landed ramrod straight at a point several steps away and said coldly with a frosty expression, “What ability does a mere Song Seven have that you’re willing to be ordered about by him?”
Qianye frowned and said slowly, “Zhao Fourth Young Master, I don’t know what you’re misunderstanding here. If we have to calculate benefits between Song Zining and me, then I owe him my life in the first place. What’s more, did you think I will allow anyone else to easily influence me?”
Song Zining sighed and couldn’t help but say, “I heard all those who have come of age in the Zhao clan must enter the battlefield. Even if Qianye is willing to go back with you, are you going to prevent him from fighting his whole life? Is this trying to protect him or harm him?”
Zhao Jundu didn’t reply after hearing this and momentarily closed his eyes in silence. He then opened his eyes and looked intently at Qianye. “One year. If you don’t come by that time, I’ll come looking for you. Additionally, you’ll never see that crystal disk again.”
Qianye inhaled deeply. His fingertips were trembling, but he made no sound.
Zhao Jundu didn’t wait for Qianye’s reply as he turned his cold gaze toward Song Zining and said, “Song Zining, there’s something you might not know yet. Zhang Boqian will challenge the Grand Duke of Profound Order. This news will spread across the empire in a month’s time.”
Song Zining was suddenly shaken and his expression changed precipitously.
The Grand Duke of Profound Order was from the imperial lineage and also one of the four heavenly monarchs of the human race. It was precisely because the four grand dukes were holding the fort and standing in opposition to the dark race great monarchs that the empire was able to keep the general situation under control.
Now that Zhang Boqian intended to challenge the Great Duke of Profound Order, it was a major event that would shake the empire’s internal structure regardless of the outcome. Whether he won or lost, Zhang Boqian had a good chance of becoming the fifth heavenly monarch as long as he displayed fighting strength rivaling that of the Grand Duke of Profound Order. The Song clan would inevitably come under pressure once Zhang Boqian advanced to the rank of heavenly monarch even if Duchess An could keep things under temporary control.
This news could be considered earth-shattering. Even someone as subtle as Song Zining was greatly affected—his mind went completely vacant for a moment. By the time he had collected his thoughts, Zhao Jundu had long since left.
“… Let’s go,” Song Zining called out. His voice had unexpectedly turned hoarse.
As such, Qianye and Song Zining continued up the mountain. The latter broke the unbearable silence only after a good while.
“Qianye, have you ever thought about your future path?”
“If there’s only one path, then I’ll walk straight ahead. If there are many paths, I’ll choose one and walk forward all the same.”
“How will you choose?”
“I’ll choose a path that leads to results.”
“What if you can’t tell which one you desire?”
“Then I’ll pick the closest one.”
After ending this almost pointless conversation, Song Zining suddenly broke into a laughter. “Living beings wallow in complexities, but the most profound take the simplest forms. The path has always been there. It seems I’m the one overthinking things.” Now that he thought of it, there had never been many options in Qianye’s life. So why was he, on the contrary, feeling lost despite the choices he had?
“Qianye, since you’ve said so yourself, you have two choices before you now. Pick one!” Song Zining’s voice was once again cheerful. Whenever he spoke such words, Qianye would usually encounter nothing good.
Qianye looked up and found that they had already arrived at the main doors of the Deep Cloud Hall. Two identical and beautiful young ladies had emerged from the side-courtyard and were bowing toward them in greeting from under the porch. Their long raven-dark hair fell toward their chest to reveal a segment of dazzling white skin on the nape of their necks.
This pair of young ladies resembled one another even more than Lil’ Seven and Nine. Additionally, they had received professional training—their every frown, every smile, every little action, and even their voices were exceptionally uniform. It was as if the two were one and the same. It seemed as though the beholder were drunk and seeing double images.
Qianye felt his temples aching. Could it be that this fellow was planning for them to take one each?
Song Zining laughed mischievously. “I’ve never used Sixteen and Seventeen before, but, according to the teacher at Hidden Springs, their only difference is on bed.”
Qianye suddenly felt a sense of approaching danger. Without giving him time to dodge aside, a powerful force came in from behind and pushed him into a pile of soft, fragrant jade. The two ladies clung onto Qianye after seeing Song Zining’s gesture and embraced him tightly between them.
At this moment, under such circumstances, Song Zining would never allow Qianye to shrink back.
Moments later, the sounds of battle rang out from the inner and outer rooms of the main building which were separated only by a curtain.
As expected, although Sixteen and Seventeen were identical down to their speech, the wonderful sounds they were making at this moment were rather different. One was like a black-naped oriole, her voice mellow, clear, and from time to time, rising high into the clouds. The other was like continuous silken thread, with a deep and winding voice akin to the waves crashing on the river shore under a moonlit spring night—one wave hadn’t even died out when the next had already arisen.
As this intense and chaotic battle was going on, the origin power lamps were as bright as day within the command room of a majestic fort towering over the rebel-controlled Serene South Province on the Western Continent.
Ling Xitang was standing before a long table with his hands behind his back and gazing attentively at the sand table—he had just sunk into an episode of prolonged reflection.
There was an old-fashioned wooden box placed at a corner of the long table. Its craftsmanship was rather crude, but the material was fairly sturdy. This was one of Lin Xitang’s personal items, something he would put on his desk no matter where he went. Someone had once gotten a glimpse of the contents—the box was filled with damaged name tags quite similar to those used by the army. Many of them were badly damaged, each carrying traces of burnt powder and flames.
Lin Xitang’s expression suddenly changed as he walked over and pushed open the balcony window. His figure then leapt into the sky and rose into the ash-grey firmament amidst the flowing moonlight, his silver hair fluttering in the wind.
A giant cloud, covering hundreds of square meters in diameter, was slowly revolving hundreds of meters in the air.
A certain person was sitting at its center with one leg extended and the other flexed. His natural posture made it seem as if it were solid ground beneath him and not empty air. That person raised his head and swallowed a large mouthful of wine, a small amount of the scarlet fluid flowing down the sharp outline of his chin. He suddenly tossed the bottle out with an extremely unruly manner.
Lin Xitang stood just outside of the cloud. He reached out to grab the incoming wine bottle and took a large gulp out of it before hurling it back.
That person’s voice seemed to have a certain attractiveness to it as he let out a muffled laugh. “The vampires have nothing good, but their history is long enough. They’re the only source, apart from the imperial palace, where we can find such high-quality 500-year-old liquor.”
Lin Xitang let out a faint smile and said, “Congratulations on Marshal Zhang’s further accomplishments.”
Zhang Boqian slowly stood up. This legendary character, famed as one of the Empire’s Twin Paragons, possessed an imposing stature and a staunch appearance. Every contour of his was suffused with a precipitous intent resembling steep cliffs and perilous peaks. The most impressive was his pair of brilliant phoenix-like eyes—full of spirit and accompanied by a terrifying pressure capable of overturning the heaven and earth.
“You’ve stayed in this damned place for two years. Is it really that interesting?”
Lin Xitang’s expression was calm, without the slightest bit of fluctuation. “There are certain difficulties with the ongoing war. Fortunately, there’s been some progress with the conflict on Evernight Continent.”
Zhang Boqian laughed mockingly. “Mere roaches! How difficult can they be? Give me a month and I promise I’ll leave none alive.”
Lin Xitang restrained his emotions and said, “This is my theater of operations. If Marshal Zhang has an opinion, please petition the imperial first before commenting on it.”
“Why the need for these half-truths, Marshal Lin? Aren’t you hanging tightly onto this place in order to escape the terrible mess at the Endless Palace? Everyone…”
Great waves arose in Lin Xitang’s calm eyes as he cut Zhang Boqian short with a stern voice. “Marshal Zhang!”
An all-encompassing lightning seemed to flash through Zhang Boqian’s phoenix eyes as the clouds surrounding him suddenly began to stir. Then, he gradually calmed down and said in a dull tone of voice, “Let it be, let’s not talk about this anymore. This time, I’m here to give you a big present.”
Lin Xitang was somewhat alarmed.
“Don’t you have a high demand for the rare medicines produced from the Song clan’s Vega Meadow in the Great Maelstrom? Go ask for more a month later, and Song Zhongnian will offer them to you with both hands. Their defensive capabilities will soon become insufficient for guarding their outlying realms.
Song Zhongnian was precisely the current Song clan lord. Additionally, the Great Maelstrom where the Vega Meadow was located wasn’t connected to the Song clan domain, and its normal defenses required more military power than their primary domain.
Lin Xitang frowned as he waited in silence. He knew, from Zhang Boqian’s words, that there must be a continuation.
Zhang Boqian then said, “I’ll challenge the Grand Duke of Profound Order in one month.”
Li Xitang went silent for a moment before saying, “Congratulations, Marshal Zhang, on your breakthrough to the heavenly monarch realm.”
Zhang Boqian was was completely devoid of fear and restraint, regarding even the majestic imperial court as though it were an uninhabited place. Anything he had decided, he would see through to the very end. But it was this unwavering self-important attitude that had actually cultivated his brilliant momentum and power.
Zhang Boqian’s odds of winning were high in this challenge against the Grand Duke of Profound Order.
Li Xitang sighed in his heart after thinking about the Song clan. As one of Zhang Boqian’s biggest political rivals, the Song clan might really draw closer to him if the latter were to become the fifth heavenly monarch.
“Why has your Art of Heaven’s Mastery paused at the realm of celestial splendor? Since you’ve already deduced the sixty-year-cycle horoscope back then, you should already have known that my path is the correct one.”
Li Xitang smiled faintly and said, “Our paths were never the same. Didn’t we deduce the heavenly mysteries so that we can defy the heavens? Otherwise, what’s the use of such an ability? Why should I become a puppet of the heavenly dao?”
Zhao Boqian was suddenly shaken. He had never imagined that this former Yellow Spring schoolmate and imperial marshal, whose divination arts were celebrated as the best in this world, was actually walking such a path.
“Since I’ve received His Imperial Majesty’s trust, I can only devote myself to the empire unto my dying breath.”
“What’s this empire to you?” Zhang Boqian asked slowly.
With a wave of his sleeve, the clouds were immediately torn into wads of flying cotton. Following which, they were rapidly stained with a layer of ash-grey as if they had been soaked in ink. It seemed as though the sky over this region were spinning as a gigantic dark vortex began to form and sweep over Lin Xitang.
The latter extended his hands, and immediately after, the dark clouds lit up for a brief moment as specks of starlight flickered through them. It was as if a small meteor belt had shuttled down from the top of the world.
Stars fell like rain into the great vortex where Lin Xitang stood ramrod straight and as sharp as an unsheathed blade. It felt as if he would never bend even if he were broken in two.
Zhang Boqian suddenly took a deep breath and, with a wave of his hand, swept away the clouds to reveal the moon. The world regained its previous calm as if nothing had ever happened here.
His pair of phoenix eyes was full of untamed cruelty as he said, “I’ll wait and see how your imperial path turns out!” He then turned around and disappeared into the distant sky.
Lin Xitang watched as the man’s figure disappeared, his clear eyes reflecting the heaven, earth, and stars. Among the ways of myriad living beings, the only thing to be feared was a lack of conscience.
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